The sinking of the Lusitania is assuredly the most hideous crime that has been perpetrated since the infamous Duke of Alva ravaged the Low Countries with fire and sword and torture. We must go back three centuries, that is to say, to find a parallel to the dreadful deed by which the miscreants who direct German policy have crowned a long record of unutterable offences. They have staggered humanity in good sooth. It is not too much to say that this murder of more than one thousand inoffensive travellers had shaken the human world to its foundations.
With what object was this deed committed? Who can say! Some there are who think, as I said last week, that the immediate object of German policy is to provoke the whole world to hostility so that it may reasonable be pleaded when the German power is broken that it yielded only to overwhelming force. This explanation is as good as another. I confess myself wholly unable to explain a course of action that seems to rest on no sane or intelligible basis.
Go back for a moment to the fateful days at the end of last July. We see the Austrian Emperor presenting an ultimatum to the tiny Servian [Serbian] state that no self-respecting country could accept and survive. We see all the other Powers in Europe but one stirring every nerve, exhausting every diplomatic expedient, in an endeavour to limit the demands of Austria and confine the area of the dispute. Germany stood ostentatiously aside from the concerted action of the Powers, but she was not idle. She deliberately goaded her wretched Austrian dupe into war, and then, relying on her own preparations of 40 years, flung out her own ultimatums right and left. We were thought fit to be approached with shameful suggestions of neutrality because we were supposed to be incapable, by reason of our own internal embarrassments, of taking effect part in a world war.
The long months have passed, and all that time we have been locked in a life and death struggle for our own national existence and for the liberties of the world. Thousands of our brightest young lives have been sacrificed on sea and land. And the end is not yet in sight.
The Kaiser, we are told, has received hundreds of telegraphic congratulations on the sinking of the Lusitania. Berlin is delirious with joy, and there has been heavy convivial drinking in the German clubs in New York. Think of it! Did the world ever before witness the spectacle of a whole nation congratulating itself on the commission of a frightful crime? Has anything equally portentous ever happened in the history of civilisation?
It is well that at such an hour as this we can count on the heroic assistance of powerful friends. Not less is it fortunate that we can rely on the unshakable fortitude of our own people. The news of the loss of the Lusitania brought recruits to every office of enlistment in the kingdom. In London they jostled one another in their impatience to join the colours. So in the Middle Ages chivalrous spirits pressed eagerly forward to take part in holy crusades.
Our young men are wide awake now to the sacredness of the cause that they are called upon to defend. This is no war of kings and dynasts or of artful politicians. We are on the side of Christendom against devilry.
The historians of the future will be at pains to enquire how it came about that such a people as the Germans, after having attained a certain level of civilisation, fell in a few months into the depths of barbarism. Their decline and fall has been infinitely more rapid than that of any other people in history. False teaching, false philosophy, sudden prosperity, great success too easily attained - these, no doubt, are some of the causes that are making for the destruction of Germany. Add to them uncontrolled authority in the hands of a vainglorious despot, and we are as near the explanation of an amazing phenomenon as we are likely to get.
It is a vast responsibility that rests on us and our Allies. If we should fail in our duty the world will have lost the many incalculable advantages that civilisation has given us, and Europe will lie at the mercy of a people compared with whom the Saracens of old were children of light. We shall have to start building up the fabric of European society from its foundations.
The policy of the poisonous bomb, of shooting in cold blood the prisoners of war, the murder of simple peasants, the torpedoing without notice of fisherman and merchantmen, the sinking of great passenger vessels with their freights of women and little children - it is such a policy as this that the Germans seek to substitute for the conventions and international rules that have served for some centuries at least to mitigate the horrors of war.
Not the least of German offences is the habit of wholesale and unabashed lying that accompanies their warlike operations. The disgustingly mendacious story of the imaginary sea battle off the coast of Norway is a case in point. Part of our Navy is represented as having engaged another British squadron in a deadly conflict, and German "Main Headquarters" reports the names of individual British ships sunk or disabled in a fight that never took place! All this, no doubt, for the benefit of neutrals hesitating on which side to throw their weight.
Well, our sacred duty is to press steadily forward to the final victory that will not be denied us if we are true to ourselves. Debauched and degraded as they are, I do not believe that the Germans would lightly have sacrificed the respect of a horrified world if they had not been convinced by now that there game is up, and that they have nothing now to hope for from the good offices of impartial neutrals.
House of Commons,
May 12th, 1915.